"Easter 04: My Sheep Know My Voice"
by Tim Suttle
2017.05.07 – Easter 04
John 10:1-10 – My sheep know my voice
Did you know that human beings spend roughly 60% of our communication time listening, which sounds good, but there is a huge problem with this:
And the problem is: we’re actually not very good at it.
In fact we retain only about 25% of what we hear.
That means that 3 words in 4 that are spoken to us, simply disappear…
I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you, & especially not during church.
…but let’s just say that in general that’s how it works.
We lose about 25% of what we hear.
PT: And that’s kind of alarming when consider the fact that listening is about wading thru all kinds of input to find things that are meaningful … things that bring us understanding. Listening is the pathway to meaning & understanding.
And it’s largely a process of extraction.
… about distinguishing the signal from the noise.
… wading through the distractions to pick out, or extract, that one thing that has meaning for us.
And it’s actually quite difficult to do.
Luckily, our brains have developed some pretty cool techniques to help us do this better. (PLAY CROWDED ROOM AUDIO).
We’ve been in a crowded room … trying to talk to someone.
And it’s hard to hear what they’re saying over the other voices we hear.
But if I say “Bill, Rebecca, Brian, pay attention.”
Several of you were immediately able to track my voice better than the rest of the crowd. (FADE OUT)
That’s a technique called pattern recognition… (cocktail party effect)
Even though there’s a lot of noise & chaos in the room,
If you hear a familiar patter (your name) your brain will focus in & begin to extract meaning from one part the chaos…
There’s another technique we use called differencing. (PLAY PINK NOISE)
If I left this sound (pink noise) running for several minutes you would slowly cease to hear it.
It’s that wild? It sounds so annoying right now, but your mind would begin to completely ignore it.
We’re wired to hear to differences & ignore things that sound the same.
So, if there’s a constant sound, our brains suppress it.
That’s why this sound is piped into offices around the world to mask distracting sounds, & people are not even aware it’s there.
And, in fact, so much of what controls your ability to listen… so much of what shapes what you actually hear occurs without your even being aware of it.
Close your eyes for a moment... be still…
Just sitting here listening, you can tell without looking… how big this room is, can’t you?
Even w/your eyes closed your brain can tell from the way the sound behaves… how big the room is.
You could guess the # of people in the room w/your eyes closed.
Because your brain is hearing thousands of micro-noises all around you, and forming a picture of how many people are in the room.
Now, despite all this, experts in the field tell us: humans are beginning to lose their ability to listen effectively… and they point to a whole host of reasons.
One has to do with our ability to record things.
It started with writing, then the printing press.
Then came audio recording… video recording...
And as those technologies came online,
The premium on accurate and careful listening has gone way down.
Listening is a skill & we don’t have to practice it as much.
We can just record the whole thing & come back to it later.
Another reason is that the world has gotten so noisy.
So many artificial sounds fill our environments …
So, it can be hard to focus on any one thing.
Everyone has to shout in order to be heard…
This is how shocking headlines, scandals & rage fill the airwaves.
And our natural reaction to this has been: noise blocking headphones.
These keep us in our own individual bubble where we only have to hear what we want to hear.
We increasingly isolate in order to be productive, diminishing our ability to listen & collaborate as we work.
PT: Plus, think about what the noise blocking headphones do to your natural ability to interact w/your environment; all of those unconscious & amazing things your hearing can do in a room … those all go away.
A third reason we are losing our ability to listen effectively is that in the speed of our culture we are becoming impatient listeners.
We don’t want oratory anymore, we want sound bites.
People aren’t listening, they’re formulating a response.
Interactive conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting.
Sooo much communication is now mediated through a screen.
With all of this going on, we are beginning to lose the ability to recognize….
The quiet, the subtle, the understated, the sophisticated, the meaning of space… the power of silence…
Those things get completely lost in a world that can’t stop talking even if nobody is really listening anymore.
PT: So I think there are layers of meaning for us in this simple claim by JS: “his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” They know how to listen. They can distinguish his voice from other voices & they can respond in obedience.
What this assumes about human beings is actually pretty radical. It assumes:
You have everything you need in order to hear from God.
You have been equipped with a sense of spiritual hearing.
And it also assumes that God is a God who speaks.
God has a voice that is distinguishable to God’s followers.
And if we can’t hear the voice of the Shepherd it’s because:
1) we don’t know how listen… which in the logic of the passage seems to cast doubt on whether or not these are really his sheep… Or,
2) we have been seduced by other voices… the voices of the thieves & bandits who lead us astray.
If you go to a Catholic cemetery, you’ll see all kinds of crucifixes & statues.
If you go to a Protestant cemetery, you see lots of writing, scriptures, quotes…
If you go to an early Christian cemetery in a place like the catacombs of Rome.
You wouldn’t find crucifixes statues ,scriptures, or epitaphs.
More than anything, you see images of the Good Shepherd… like this one, from the catacombs of San Callisto.
…the Good Shepherd, carrying a lost sheep on his shoulders…
This image is carved onto crypts, it’s painted on ceilings;
it’s drawn on the walls... it’s all over the place.
PT: No other image captivated the imagination of the early church like the Good Shepherd, protecting his flock, often having just rescued a sheep from danger, carrying it on his shoulders. In fact, for the first 400 yrs of the church the Good Shepherd was a more prevalent symbol than the cross.
Drawings or carvings like this one are ubiquitous for the first 400 years after the death of Christ, & then almost overnight they disappear.
We just stop seeing them—quite suddenly in fact.
The church stops using them like they used to.
Now, if you know your history, you know this is about the same time that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The Edict of Milan made Christianity legal in 314AD.
The Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire—that was 380AD.
PT: By 400 AD Christians had come into political power, really, for the first time in history. And as they did, the image of the Good Shepherd kind of faded away… which is fascinating to me.
So as long as the Romans were persecuting the Christians, the Christians clung to JS as the good shepherd.
They worked hard to know the voice of the shepherd, because they needed him to lead them to safe pastures.
They needed a comfort & guide while the Romans hung their people on crosses.
But once Rome began to accept them & provide for their safety, they no longer needed a Good Shepherd & the image began to disappear.
PT: Why trust in the good shepherd when Rome was leading the way to peace? So the voice of the shepherd, in large part, began to be drowned out by the voice of Rome… who in some respects, became a kind of robber or thief.
The bible contains 100s of passages about sheep, shepherds, & sheepfolds… it’s impossible to tell the story of Israel w/out referencing shepherds.
Jacob made his fortune in sheep. Remember that story?
He swindled Esau out of his birthright & ran off to work for Laban, and he makes his fortune in sheep…
There’s that whole story where he breeds sheep to his own advantage so his flocks increase… Jacob was a shepherd.
Joseph was one of only 2 sons Jacob had w/Rachel (Benjamin).
He was tending to his father’s flocks of sheep w/his brothers.
And he brought back a bad report about the brothers.
In an act of revenge they sold him into slavery…
Before he was anything else, Joseph was a shepherd.
Moses: What was he doing when he stumbled upon the burning bush?
He was out in the wilderness of Midian, tending to his father in law’s sheep… Moses was a shepherd.
King David: Israel’s greatest king, and most celebrated warrior:
When Samuel comes to Jesse’s house to find a new king, they have to run get David from the field tending the sheep.
When he was anointed as king… David was a Shepherd.
PT: Israel’s greatest leaders all start out as shepherds. So you begin to understand why JS uses this image to talk about his plans for the people of God.
And built into the passage is this tension… because there are others who want to direct the course of the sheep.
He calls them thieves and robbers… strangers…
And he makes a bold claim… my sheep would never follow a robber.
They would run from that voice… why?
Because they know my voice.
JS is tapping into a deep stream of Jewish history & the human condition:
We need guidance in our lives… we need someone to lead us.
And there is more than once source we can go to.
Some voices will lead us astray, rob our lives & steal our futures…
And we can easily fall for it if we don’t know the voice of the Shepherd
This story is part of the controversy that comes up after JS heals the man born blind. Jesus says:
“I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind.”
The Pharisees say, “Surely we’re not the blind ones.”
Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.”
So as a part of that controversy comes this parable.
1 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber.
In 1st Century Palestine, every family had a few sheep to provide wool for clothing… maybe 2-3 sheep to a family.
And families in the same village would combine their sheep into one flock & have one or two boys shepherd them (15-20 sheep).
Usually one family would build a sheepfold at their home…
…a 5-6 ft. high rock wall at front of house w/jagged thorns or sharp pieces of pottery in the plaster at the top of the wall to deter thieves.
Stealing sheep involved using ladders to scale the wall & try to pass sheep over the wall w/out waking anyone up.
They might kill it to keep it quiet, & then pass it over… so JS says:
2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. 5 They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.”
PLAY VIDEO: This emphasis on the voice of the shepherd is one of those things that we just don’t run into because sheep are so distant from our lives.
The big commercial sheep operations of the day had huge pens where the professional shepherds penned their flocks together at night.
Sometimes in a town, sometimes up in the grazing lands.
There might be several large flocks together each night.
When a shepherd came to get his sheep, he’d open the gate and start to call to his sheep.
If the sheep knew the voice, they’d begin to follow.
If the sheep didn’t know the voice/call it’d scare them & they’d go to the back of the pen…
Or they would just ignore it, look at the stranger like he was crazy.
(let the video play & resolve).
PT: That’s the image JS uses here, but the Pharisee’s are lost… it says:
6 Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. [he’s saying, “I’m legit… I’m the rightful leader here. All of the other guys vying for the heart of Israel—the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes—these guys are thieves and robbers… he says:] 9 I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
So this whole thing sets up such a great metaphor for the life we are living.
How big of an influence does the voice of God have on your everyday life?
Do you know what the voice sounds like?
Do you take the time to listen?
How much influence does God have over your:
Relationships, work, struggles, studies, how you view politics, media, what you watch, what you pursue, how you direct your kids, what activities they do, how you steward your life… does God have a voice?
And who are the other voices weighing in?
Are you listening to them?
Are they connected to the shepherd, or are they thieves & robbers who want to co-opt u for some other project = little in common w/the KOG?
In your vocation … relationships … parenting
How you make decisions.
How you deal with uncertainty & loss.
When you are lonely & scared…
How spend your money… & your time.
What you eat, what you watch, who you love, who you serve.
PT: From the major pursuits of life to the trivial day to day encounters. Are you primarily guided by strangers, ppl you only know thru TV, radio, internet? Is it voice of the shepherd, or the voice of thieves & robbers that guides you
I just want to walk us quickly thru the dynamics of how we can distinguish the voice of the Good Shepherd (this is mostly from Dallas Willard).
Willard says that when Christians talk about the voice of God, we are talking about something the occurs in our own thoughts…
If you are hearing audible voices you need to see a doctor…
There’s often voice involved: friend, a pastor, a singer, a writer…
What is important is not the voice (the medium) but the message…
Something will occur in our own thoughts… & it can be brought on by any number of stimuli.
And a good rule of thumb is: The less dramatic the form the message comes, the fuller is the content, and the more advanced (if you wish), is the condition of the person who is receiving the message
We’re shaped by a culture that loves the spectacular, right?
So we’re tempted to think that the more dramatic the message is, the easier it is to discern its meaning.
What we find in the scripture is the opposite.
The more dramatic the mode of the message, the more difficult it is to get the meaning… and the more likely we are to confuse it.
This is Elijah & the the still small voice of God.
It wasn’t the fire, earthquake or wind.
God speaks in the sound of silence… perhaps just a thought.
That’s the language Willard uses… he says:
The form God’s voice will take is usually “our thoughts.”
PT: And here’s the key… it’s not a normal thought, but a thought that is distinct & different in three important ways: Quality, Spirit, and Content.
QUALITY (tone): a thought that comes from God has a kind of weight to it.
It’s not a normal thought like you usually have.
It has a different quality to it.
It’s too good for you to have come up with it... points u to goodness.
And it is so self-evidently true (even if it’s challenging) that your compliance is given at the outset.
This was one of the keys to my recognizing God’s voice in my life.
Very often the consent or compliance of the hearer is given before the content is fully revealed or understood.
There is a submission that often precedes God speaking to us (sheep).
E. Stanley Jones says: “The inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks and it is self-authenticating.”
There’s a Quality or tone that makes you say, “This thought didn’t come from me, because I’m not that deep!”
SPIRIT: When a thought is from God it will have a different Spirit.
And the spirit is a: peacefulness, joy, sweet reasonableness to it, goodwill, a warm but firm presence along with the thought.
It’s will be unimpeachable.
It’s not the voice of a bully… not hateful, spiteful, or cruel.
Nor is it the voice of a hypocrite…
Even though it’s weighty & forceful, it won’t run you over…
It’s never loud or hysterical.
Warm but firm, w/a peaceful, reasonable spirit of goodness.
You know in the moment, “This thought didn’t come from me, because I’m just not that good.”
Last one, CONTENT: When a thought comes from God it will have a different content, and this content can come to us in 3 modes.
Circumstances of life: God speaks thru events that happen to us.
Messages from scripture: God speaks as we read the scriptures.
Impressions of the Spirit: God speaks directly to our thoughts.
And the Content: helps with interpreting the reality of my life for me.
This CONTENT will never contradict Scripture; Often it’ll be thru scripture.
As you read the scripture you become aware, it’s not just the words on the page speaking anymore.
It’s related to the words… they were the impetus…
But the HS has entered the room & is addressing me.
And MOST of what it will say will be about our own character.
More often than not, the voice of God come to show US how we need to change & grow, not how others need to change…
So the voice of God is different in those 3 ways:
QUALITY: (weight), too profound to be from me.
SPIRIT: too good to be from me.
CONTENT: will usually call me into question.
It will fit with the scriptures....
It will fill you w/humility…
And then it will prompt you ask wise counsel for help interpreting it.
It will it will not be about how you can become great.
(If the msg. is that you should be Pope, you may wanna check w/other
It will usually call your own life into question before it calls any others into question.
Last thing Willard says is that:
It will rarely solve the problem…
And yet it will always bring calm. (repeat)
When the shepherd leads the sheep it’s often quite a hike to green pastures & still waters, y’know? … gonna take some time…
But, the voice of God is serene… comforting, reassuring.
It doesn’t stir anxiety, it quells anxiety… even if it fixes nothing!!
Lastly you know the thought is from God when it leads you to more conversation… when you want to continue to talk w/God.
Maybe that’s why God doesn’t just tell us in detail what we should do.
He wants us to keep on following his voice.
God doesn’t do that for the same reason that we don’t follow our kids around all day at school & work & w/friends telling them what to do
That’s how the voice of God is w/us.
It’s meant to guide, not override.
I think this kind of relationship is not only possible for you in your life, I think it is meant to be a normative Christian experience...
But there are these things that routinely get in the way.
Either we don’t listen… don’t know how … just don’t make that part of our lives.
Or we become seduced by other voices… fill up all the space.
I wonder how it might change your life for the better if you began to make a point to try and lean into the voice of God that is always speaking to you?
So, I have a quick challenge… this is your assignment try 2 simple things:
3 min. of silence a day… to listen… a place, a time, to be still & silent before the Lord. We practice this every week 1st thing. Breathe in deep, breathe out & be still, for 3 minutes & ask the Lord to speak… that’s 1.
Turn off the thieves & robbers… (Remember the voice of God has a distinct Quality, Spirit, & Content. Basically, the way you tell the difference is: God’s voice leads to a place of peace, love, contentedness… green pastures, still waters. Other voices lead to the valley of the shadow of death). My challenge is to turn off the thieves & robbers & begin to find ways to listen for the voice of the G. Shepherd.
Difference between listening & hearing
Study on curious
Psychology of listening
Lew’s dyslexia… doesn’t close the gap.
5 Love languages
A study of over 8,000 people employed in businesses, hospitals, universities, the military and government agencies found that virtually all of the respondents believed that they communicate as effectively or more effectively than their co-workers.1 (Could everyone be above average?) However, research shows that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.2 While most people agree that listening effectively is a very important skill, most people don't feel a strong need to improve their own skill level.3
INTRO: examples of times when we leave so much on the table, or don’t tap into some kind of resource & thus become deformed in some way.
Story from the moth of a family whose youngest daughter drowned & they all lived with this terrible thought that it was all their fault. If they would have communicated maybe they wouldn’t have suffered all those years w/guilt & shame. Maybe if they could have come together & talk about their guilt & what happened they could’ve all found healing
Connection, communication… it’s all so important.
Closing Activity: The spirit of God who speaks to us & wants to speak to you is here, ready & waiting. Pray hands up, allow yourself to open up to the HS.